Plot: What’s it about?
The Man Who Knew Too Much is considered to be a turning point in Hitchcock’s career. Before making this film, Hitchcock considered himself to be a fairly unsuccessful director. This was his first break through hit and also his first work that was truly indicative of what was to come. In the film you can see so many aspects that would be staples later in the filmmaker’s career, but in my opinion this film falls a little bit short of being a full fledged classic. I enjoyed it, but I did not love it.
The plot of the film revolves around a British couple on vacation in the Swiss alps with their daughter. The wife is a champion shooter and outshoots a rude brutish man named Ramon on the skeet range. A Frenchman that they are accompanied by bumps into a man who seems to immediately recognize him. Everything seems quite normal, and everybody is dancing and relaxing at night in the next scene when the Frenchman is suddenly shot through a window. In his dying gasps he reveals to the Brits that he has a note hidden in a shaving brush in his bathroom. The Brits retrieve the note which lists an address and a couple other words just in time to find out that their daughter has been kidnapped. In order to save her they must not help the authorities in any way. Meanwhile, the authorities arrive and let them know that the group that has kidnapped their daughter is planning an assassination that could easily cause another war.
All this happens in the first twenty minutes and the film follows the father and mother as they separately try their best to save their daughter and foil the assassination plans.
The movie itself is good, but definitely not in the same realm as Hitchcock’s later films. The acting is good, with an excellent Peter Lorre in his first English speaking role. I spent most of my time watching the film trying to figure out where I had seen Leslie Banks before. Then it hit me! He was the nefarious villain in The Most Dangerous Game. He was good in this film, but was great in that one. Directing is solid, but Hitchcock was still becoming the master, he had not become the master. That said, the shoutout scene and opera scene are quite well done and ahead of their time. I also really enjoyed a scene with a dentist that was ridiculous and fun. One of the biggest detractors from the film comes in the form of a fight in a church. This scene just plain looked terrible to me, and took me out of the film. Overall, I am glad I saw the film, but replay value will be quite limited for me.
Video: How’s it look?
This film looks great for a movie from 1934. This restoration by Criterion is quite impressive considering the source materials. Although this transfer is not quite as good as their recent transfer of It Happened One Night, fans should be delighted at the excellent job they have done. That said, this is a film from 1934 and it definitely shows its age. Depth is limited, but close ups reveal a good amount of detail. A marvelous transfer of a visually decent effort from Hitchcock.
Audio: How’s it sound?
This audio track was a bit problematic for me. I can tell that Criterion did everything they could to remove hiss and other distractors. To this end the track is an overwhelming success. That did not stop me from needing subtitles to understand a word of it. Most of the characters are quite soft spoken and speaking in extremely British accents. I typically do not have trouble with this, but in this case I absolutely did. It was hard for me to tell if it was the transfer or my ears, but I am erring on the side of caution and warning that the dialogue in this film is not incredibly clear.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Guillermo Del Toro – an enjoyable interview with the eclectic Mexican film director and scholar. I had no idea he had worked for three years on a book about Hitchcock. The interview was conducted exclusively for Criterion in 2012. (18 min, 1080p).
- The Illustrated Hitchcock – a television program from 1972 in which Alfred Hitchcock is interviewed by Pia Lindstrom, daughter of Ingrid Bergman, and later on film historian William K. Everson. The interviews are divided into different sections, which are listed below. I enjoyed this feature the most on the disk. Hitchcock always makes for a good interview. (50 min, 1080i).
- Part One/Actors
Part Two/The beginning
The Man Who Knew Too Much
“The need to get it right”
The Bottom Line
The Man Who Knew Too Much is Hitchcock at the beginning of discovering his power. It is a good film, but it is not a great one. The movie still is absolutely worth watching, but just can’t help but feel that spending your money on Hitchcock’s other films will be much more rewarding. Criterion offers excellent versions of The Lady Vanishes, The Foreign Correspondent, and The 39 Steps. All of those films are much better, in my opinion. That said, adding any Hitchcock to the Criterion collection is always reason to celebrate, and the supplemental features are quite good to excellent. If you are on the fence, I would recommend getting The 39 Steps first.